NEW YORK — Almost three months after Britney Spears filed a lawsuit against Skechers, the company has responded with legal action of its own.

This story first appeared in the March 14, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Los Angeles-based footwear firm Skechers USA Inc. filed a lawsuit late Wednesday against Spears and her companies, Britney Brands Inc. and Britney Touring Inc., alleging fraud and breach of contract. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Los Angeles, also charges Spears with unjust enrichment and negligent misrepresentation, and seeks rescission of all agreements between Skechers and Spears, return of all advances paid, reimbursement of millions of dollars in costs and compensatory and punitive damages exceeding $10 million.

The lawsuit claims that the pop star breached her obligations to Skechers under a merchandise license agreement by unreasonably delaying and failing to approve manufacturers, product designs and advertising for Britney 4 Wheelers roller skates and apparel.

“When we entered into the Britney 4 Wheelers license with Ms. Spears, we were enthusiastic about the numerous possibilities that would be available to consumers with Britney-branded roller skates and the accompanying apparel and skate accessories,” said a Skechers spokeswoman. “But when the design, approval and advertising process began, we were continuously shut down, rejected or ignored, making it nearly impossible to create and market the skate merchandise concept in time for key selling seasons.”

The complaint also alleges that Spears and her company fraudulently induced Skechers into entering into a tour sponsorship agreement as a condition to obtaining the merchandise license.

Skechers is being represented by Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles.

“Britney and her people took a lot of money from Skechers and they gave nothing in return,” Petrocelli said. “She allowed us to use her name and then did everything to undermine the agreement.”

This countersuit by Skechers follows a lawsuit that Britney Brands filed against the company on Dec. 24 seeking damages for several claims, including breach of contract, fraud and trademark infringement.

Jonathan Solish, attorney for Britney Brands, told WWD at the time that the lawsuit claims that Skechers failed to honor a series of basic agreements made with Britney Brands.

As reported, the lawsuit stated that in September 2000, Spears’ company signed a deal with Skechers to produce a line of roller skates called Britney 4 Wheelers. In January 2002, the lawsuit said, the company signed another deal with Skechers to find appropriate sublicenses to launch additional skating merchandise under Spears’ name. According to Solish, it failed to do so.

“Skechers was supposed to approach Kids Headquarters with the possibility of producing a line of children’s apparel under Britney’s name,” he claimed. “Now, we found that Skechers has approached them to produce a line of apparel under their own label.”

Michael Friedman, counsel for Britney Brands, said Thursday: “This countersuit is a ludicrous attempt to distract the court and the general public from the real issue: Skechers failed to meet their contractual financial obligations to Spears, they were unsuccessful in securing appropriate licensees to produce the line and completely abandoned their program to support this project.

“Skechers’ priority was clearly to associate themselves with Britney and leverage her appeal to the lucrative teenage market. However, they failed to live up to their end of the agreement. Ms. Spears has already commenced legal proceedings to vindicate her rights and we are confident that the court will support our position.”

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